Black history exhibit to open in St. Augustine

Author: Kumasi Aaron, Reporter, weekend anchor, kaaron@wjxt.com
Christopher Yazbec, News editor, News4Jax.com, cyazbec@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 17 2014 02:37:55 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 17 2014 08:04:09 PM EST
Black history exhibit
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -

It's 450 years of the African-American experience and a story the city of St. Augustine says only it can tell.

As the nation's oldest city plans to celebrate its 450th anniversary, it's unveiling a new exhibit to do just that.

The exhibit doesn't open until Monday but many of the pieces are already up, and it means a lot to people in the community to experience some of those things firsthand.

Inside, there's the lunch counter at Woolworth's in St. Augustine, where protesters staged a sit-in in 1963.

More than 50 years later, it's just one of the pieces of history on display at the exhibit called "Journey: 450 years of the African American Experience."

For 90-year-old St. Augustine native Barbara Vickers, it brings back memories of her involvement in the city's civil rights movement.

"We had a telephone tree. We'd call each other when the (Ku Klux) Klan was coming through 'cause they would shoot out our lights every night, and anytime we saw a light on we knew a bullet was coming," Vickers said.

The exhibit covers more than just the civil rights era. Dana Ste. Claire, director of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration, said it tells the story of 450 years of the African-American experience, a story that began in St. Augustine in 1565.

"Evidence of the first African-American child born in the United States, evidence of the first African-American married, in 1598," Ste. Claire said. "Those are incredible epic moments in national history and American history. They belong to us in St Augustine."

It's a story James Bullock brings to life. He hopes the information and artifacts displayed there will change the way many people view the city's original colonists.

"I believe it's an inspiration to us as Americans to realize that not all blacks were slaves and that not all slaves were black," said Bullock, of Freedom Road LLC.

Subjects range from St. Augustine's Fort Mose, the country's first freed black settlement, to the Underground Railroad, which ran south to St. Augustine, to pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marching through the city -- which tell just one part of the civil rights movement there and which many credit with helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It's four and a half centuries of history Vickers hopes will strike a chord with the community, especially its younger members.

"I'm just hoping that the community will come and take a look at this, and if they would just take a couple of things and try to research what happened during those times, it would mean a lot," she said.

The exhibit will be open until July 15.